Many a year ago, Taylor Kitsch was lauded as the next great male heartthrob. Then came John Carter. Then, Battleship. Now, he’s lucky to have landed a role in Almost Heroes 3D, the next animated feature from DigiArt Productions (which sounds more than a little like an accredited online institute).
Kellan Lutz has clearly been studying under Kitsch’s wing- stepping into the spotlight as a somewhat generic megahunk with the Twilight films and Immortals, then plunging immediately downward. The actor may be a part of the next Expendables film, but so is every other male actor in Hollywood; the only two starring roles he’s got lined up now are a couple of low-budget clunkers.
Neither Hercules: The Legend Begins nor Tarzan 3D have a whole lot going for them. So let’s start with Hercules, shall we?
The film is already in the unfortunate position of going up against Dwayne Johnson’s 265 pounds of mythical Greek fury, but a look at the newest trailer (which comes courtesy of Yahoo) only make the situation more dire. The Legend Begins mixes equal parts 300, Gladiator and Spartacus, as the mythical son of Zeus is forced to test his legendary strength in the gladiatorial arena. He’ll build a rapport with the crowds who munch popcorn and await his gruesome demise (Gladiator) and test the bounds of film editing as he abruptly switches from slow-mo, to fast-mo, to slow-mo once more (300). You can’t really hold this against Lutz. Hercules: The Legend Begins just looks like old hat.
As does Tarzan 3D, but at least that one’s got a new twist going for it. The boy raised by apes will be fighting the same nature-hating industrialists from Avatar, who’re tearing up his natural habitat in a desperate bid to turn the original dinosaur-extincting asteroid into the ultimate energy source (as that’s apparently a thing you can do). The animation’s not particularly pretty – it may have been filmed using motion-capture, but that’s not the only necessary ingredient – but at least Tarzan 3D offers up a Tarzan we haven’t seen before.
Here’s the thing. Hercules and Tarzan are super-famous properties, both of whom reside in the public domain (technically, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan stories are free and clear, but due to some legal loopholes, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. is still able to litigate). So by snatching up these popular and easy-to-access properties, a smaller film can gain a big ol’ boost of brand recognition in a crowded market. But then those same films have to compete with Dwayne Johnson’s testosterone-soaked take on the same source material. Instead, these endless Kellan Lutz-starring adaptations should look to material that, while still in the public domain, is ground less traveled.
I’m talking about “The Monster Men.” Written by Burroughs in 1913, it’s essentially Tarzan with a few supernatural twists; perfect for those looking for a Tarzan story that’s not technically the same old Tarzan story. “The Monster Men” has also never left the page – in the hundred years since it was written, the story has seen no adaptations of stage, screen, video game or action figure. It’s the polar opposite of Tarzan.
The story finds professor Arthur Maxon and his daughter Virginia embarking on an expedition to Singapore. Deep in the remote jungle, Arthur begins a series of experiments in an attempt to replicate human life. The first is a failure; appearing more monster than man. The second: also a failure. This continues onward until experiment number thirteen, which results in a perfectly formed, perfectly intelligent human being named Jack. Virginia, Arthur and Jack now venture through the jungle, fighting off pirates and jungle creatures and monsters #1–12, the titular monster men who have escaped into the wilds.
Jack, like Tarzan, struggles with his humanity – balancing his non-traditional origins and his traditional human sidekicks. Jack, unlike Tarzan, gets to fight (and later lead) a group of nasty-looking monstrous humanoids. There are of course, a few downsides. The last Burroughs adaptation to take any kind of a risk was John Carter, which requires no explanation (alternatively, if you find it does require explanation: it did not do a good job). The few reviews to be found online of “The Monster Men” also don’t describe it particularly kind terms, but if the novel lacks a serious following, that’s a smaller group of people to become outraged when the inevitable alterations are made.
And at the very barest of minimums, it’s a change of pace from inserting a science fiction into century-old properties like Tarzan or, yes, Zorro. The concept trailer for that one was been taken down already, but you can read all about that bizarre taste combination over here. We seemed to have dodged a bullet there, but wouldn’t it be nice to see some different heroes adapted for the screen? If studios are going to borrow old favorites from literature, they might as well be creative about it.